SAGARMATHA SOUTHWEST FACE EXPEDITION, 1991-1992
SINCE SIR EDMUND HILLARY AND TENZING NORGAY first scaled Everest, in 1953, 453 people have climbed its summit till now in about forty years. Many kinds of attempts like variation of climbing routes, traversing, climbing without oxygen, climbing in winter or climbing in record time, have been done on the peak because it is highest in the world.
The Everest Southwest Face, which rises straight from the Western Cwm to the top, has attracted many ambitious climbers for a long time. In the autumn of 1969, the Japan Alpine Club went and observed the face, After that, five expedition teams bravely tried to climb it, but all failed. On the 24 September 1975, the British party led by Chris Bonington at last succeeded in climbing the Southwest face to the top. Since then, the Southwest face has been attacked several times by other teams and two of them also succeeded. One was the Russian team in 1982 and another was Czechoslovakian in 1988. But no climbers had tried it in winter.
Gunma Mountaineering Association planed to climb the Southwest face of Everest in winter from December 1991 to February 1992, as the commemoration event of its fiftieth year. In Japan, there are 47 prefectures and each of them has'a mountaineering association, Gunma Mountaineering Association is also one of them. Since the expedition to Dhaulagiri IV in 1971, Gunma Mountaineering Association has sent seven expeditions to the Himalayan area and made some good climbs. For example, the first ascent of the southeast ridge of Dhaulagiri I in 1978, first winter ascent of the south face of Annapurna I. Noboru Yamada, who was called Japanese Reinhold Messner because of having scaled many 8000 m peaks, was also the member of this association.
In the spring of 1991, we went to Kangchenjunga as the pre-expedition for the Southwest face of Everest in winter. This expedition was supported by the Government of India, and we could get the permission to climb Kangchenjunga from the Sikkim side. In that Kangchenjunga expedition, three Indians and three Japanese scaled the top and most of the members could reach 8000 m. We successfully finished the pre-expedition training. Some other members separately trained on Broad Peak in Pakistan, Nun in Kashmir and Korzhenevskaya, Lenina, Kommunizma in the Pamir in summer.
Our team divided into four parties and landed in Kathmandu from 3 October to 21 October 1991. After that, we trained for acclimatisation on a 5099 m peak behind Pheriche, and on Pokalde peak (5806 m) opposite Lobuche. We established the base camp on the Khurnbu glacier (5350 m) on 11 November. We started route-making through the icefall. together with two Korean expedition teams attempting the South Pillar and the South Col routes. We had finished route making by 16 November. We trained for the acclimatisation for 6000 m and started ferrying loads to the Cl from 20 to 27 November.
After three days rest, we started climbing the Southwest face of Everest in December. We established Cl situated on top of the icefall at 6020 m on the same day.
The next day, we pitched the £2 on the Western Cwm (6500 m). We found a big schrund at the base of the Southwest face at 6700 m which had to be negotiated and one could cross it through a narrow gap. The upper part of the schrund was an easy ice-snow slope, the average gradient of the slope was 35 degrees approximately.
We established the C3 below the big rock (6900 m) on 5 December.
We stretched 23.5 pitches of fixed rope from C3 to C4, the average gradient of the slope was 40 degrees approximately. C4 was pitched on a slope at 7600 m on 11 December.
On 11 December, we started route-making for C5. We extended the route 18 pitches up toward the left couloir cutting into rock band from 11 to 14 December.
On 15 December, we reached the entrance of the couloir. We went up some 1.5 pitches of narrow gully to the amphitheater at the top. The couloir has a width of three or four meters, and is ful! of small chockstone almost covered with snow. The average gradient of the couloir was 50 degrees approximately. We reached just below the ramp at 8300 m. We had found old fixed rope on the very steep rock face presumably belonging to the 1975 British expedition.
On 16 December, we succeeded in overcoming a key point of the rock band. We took over and led up the rock face, turning slightly right onto a ramp. We went up the ramp and took care not to drop stones. The ramp was covered with loose and brittle rock. We extended the route one more pitch up on the ramp.
On 18 December, we stretched for another short pitch, until we were almost sure that the way was clear to reach the site for C5 (8350 m). We had found remains of the British C6 in that place.
On 21 December, we attempted to put up C5 but failed, the tent poles were broken by the cold and strong wind. Then the real winter cold descended on the mountain. On 25 December, we were compelled to evacuate from C2 to the base camp. After five days, we started climbing again, but we were troubled with strong wind almost everyday in January, and we went up to the upper camp and again went down to C2 without result.
On 8 January, we established C5 (8350 m), and two members stayed the first night at C5. Next morning, they went down to C2 due to the severe cold at C5.
We decided to continue the expedition until 15 February, then on the 25 January began to climb up again for the last try. As the expedition extended over a period of two months, we had to remake the route in the icefall area. The crevasses between Cl and C2 became large, and the Southwest face became rocky because the snow on it was blown away day by day.
On the 29th, two members reached C5 again but from the next day a terrible storm began to disturb them so they had to go back to C2. ' <'
In February the violent wind still didn't stop roaring on the West Ridge and South Col. We could do nothing but wait for good weather.
The endless strong wind made Sherpas depressed in spirits and they refused to support us to C5. After discussing all the problems on the 9 February we decided to give up.
On the Southwest face in winter season, we climbed 50 pitches on the ice and snow wall from the foot to the rock band which is one of the most difficult points. There is no need to climb the slab as there is in spring or no danger of avalanches like in autumn, so the condition of the face, we think, is best in winter. Due to the good condition of the face, we took only sixteen days from the base camp to the rock band. In spite of that good process, we couldn't scale the summit. There were several causes for the failure but the most serious one was the wind. Whenever the strong wind began to roar we could do nothing.
Of course we were prepared for the cold, the strong wind and the rock-fall before attacking the face, but the power of nature was mightier then we expected. Since we settled at the base camp, 83 days had been spent but on most days we did nothing but wait for the violent wind to stop.
We would like to attempt to climb the Southwest face against next winter season, and we hope to succeed next time.
Summary: A Japanese attempt on the Southwest face of Everest (8848 m) in winter, 1991-92.